As the Northern Premier League cricket season entered its second half, St Annes still had not won a game.
Had anyone told captain Nathan Armstrong at that time that his side would go into the penultimate weekend of the campaign safe from relegation and with a cup final to look forward to, he may have questioned their sanity.
But that’s the reality for the Vernon Road club, who won none of their first 13 league games this season but have won all five completed matches since and so go into tomorrow’s home derby with Blackpool as the NPL’s form side.
That reversal of fortunes has also brought wins over Blackpool and Garstang in the Berrys Beds 40-over Cup, earning St Annes a place in Sunday’s final at Netherfield, who they defeated by six wickets in the league on Monday. Netherfield first visit Fleetwood tomorrow.
The return of skipper Armstrong after a lengthy absence with knee ligament damage has given St Annes a further boost, though he puts their dramatic turnaround down to a team mentality.
Armstrong told The Gazette: “Getting that first win was all-important. It changed the atmosphere in the dressing room and everyone is now playing with more freedom. Once you get on a roll it becomes difficult for other teams to stop it.
“But it never felt as though we were on the brink of disaster. It always felt as though we were on the brink of playing as we know we can. It’s just a shame it took so long.
“The players have all stuck together and now they have a chance to win some silverware, which is why we all play the game.
“It’s at Netherfield’s ground but there’s no reason why we can’t beat them again, though it’s all about what happens on the day.”
Before then, St Annes have a chance to end the season at Vernon Road in style when they face Blackpool. Last year’s champions, Blackpool are competing only for Fylde coast bragging rights this season as they vie with Fleetwood for third place.
Armstrong added: “There’s always a good rivalry between Blackpool and ourselves.
“The loss of their professional has made it a difficult year for Blackpool, especially when you look at the standard of the pro they had (Sri Lankan Lahiru Madushanka).
“It’s difficult to replicate anything if you are changing your pro each week, but they have had some very good sub-pros.”
St Annes could have a say in the destiny of the title if the race goes to the final day, when they visit second-placed Garstang.
However, Leyland could clinch the crown by collecting more points than Garstang tomorrow.
Armstrong’s target is to maintain St Annes’ outstanding form in these final games as a springboard for 2020.
He added: “Matt Yeadon is bowling well and really looks like an opening bowler, while Alex Bradley is showing potential as a number three.
“It all bodes well for next year but first it’s all about finishing next season as well as we can.”
Northern Premier Cricket League: St Annes v Blackpook, Fleetwood v Netherfield, Barrow v Chorley, Fulwood and Broughton v Leyland, Kendal v Garstang, Longridge v Penrith
Liverpool Competition ECB premier league: Orrell Red Triangle v Lytham
Moore and Smalley Palace Shield premier division: Great Eccleston v Standish, South Shore v Eccleston, Preston v Fylde, Croston v Vernon Carus, Morecambe v Lancaster, New Longton v Penwortham
Division 1A: Thornton Cleveleys v Whittle and Clayton-le-Woods, Norcross v Withnell Fold, Hoghton v Kirkham and Wesham, Grimsargh v Rufford, Mawdesley v Torrisholme
Berrys Beds 40-Over Cup Final: Netherfield v St Annes